Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 25.djvu/194

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190 Southern Historical Society Papers.

port or measure, but his whole course was so sensible, dignified and discreet, as to be worthy of Conscript Fathers, and he was for years at the head of the high Commmittee of Foreign Relations.* He was twice re-elected, and before his third term expired, he was obliged to retire by the impending Civil War, which threatened all he held dear, and summoned him to the defence of his mother State of Vir- ginia. He sought no distinction in either house of Congress, but contented himself with the even tenor of his way, doing his duty diligently, conserving the Constitution of the Federal Government, and guarding the rights of the States and the liberties of the people. To any and all opponents he yielded nothing on these points, and was practical and persistent in his course. He was always practical on questions of mere expediency, where no question of morals was concerned; and the moment any question of moral obligation arose, involving the faith and truth of men and States, he knew where the true practical was, which but few men ever know, and they are sel- dom distinguished in public political life. When the Constitution, which the faith of men and States was pledged to support, was vio- lated, he paused not to consider what was the present profit of sub- mission; and when self-respect and honor called upon him to vindicate both, he counted not the cost of contending for both. He knew by his honorable instincts, trained by the discipline of his childhood, by the associations of his youth, and by the calls of his manhood, that there was no profit in sacrificing sound morals to a dread of defeat, or to the dross of immediate gains. He counted the cost, and knew the danger of loss for the time, but also knew that to be practical in the end was to be true to the moral law, and himself.

Though a staunch, unwavering Democrat, he was never a mere partizan; party was his servant, not his master, and he adhered to it only as long as it violated no fundamental law or principles, and kept good faith. When its representatives proved hesitating or recreant in defending the Constitution, in protecting the people, and in pre- serving the public peace against the enemies of all three, he then proudly and independently was relf-reliant, and claimed the right of self-government for himself and for his constituents.

In the conflict of States as to what was the fundamental law, he took the side of strict Construction, and of Limited Powers as his fathers before him did against George III; and considering the cov-

  • He was the author of the Fugutive Slave Law of 1850.